Examining Children and Immersive Virtual Reality

This study by Jakki O. Bailey and Jeremy N. Bailenson of Stanford's Virtual Human Interactive Lab  is currently under review for publication in the Journal of Media Psychology.   Published on the Virtual Human Interactive Lab website, Dec. 7, 2016.  

Abstract:  What do we know about children and immersive virtual reality? Research shows virtual experiences impacting adults’ behaviors, thoughts, and social lives, yet little is known about users under the age of eighteen. This paper provides a state-of the-art review and content analysis of empirical studies on immersive virtual reality (IVR) and children, including a table with an overview of each study. The results from the analysis show a small number of existing studies. Four major research themes arise (pain distraction, education, assessment, media effects), and much of the existing research has focused on IVR use with clinical populations. Sample sizes varied greatly, and studies had small to extremely wide age ranges. In addition, little research examined the developmental media effects of IVR on children, particularly those in early childhood. The implications of these results, issues of cognitive development and IVR, and future research are discussed.

Examining Research with Children and Immersive Virtual Reality

In today’s current media landscape, youth are gaining greater access to mediatechnology and demonstrating that they use media early on. For example, children under the age of eight use screen media for an average of two hours a day, and in 2013, 80% of parents reported that their two to four olds have used a mobile device (i.e. smart phones, tablet; Rideout, 2013). The consumer market is feeding into the growth of child media users: 80% of the top-selling education apps target children, with 72% specifically targeting preschool-aged children (Guernsey, Levinue, Chiong, & Severns, 2012). Beyond mere access, children and adolescents adopt of new media technologies early (Lauricella, Cingel, Blackwell, & Conway, 2014) suggesting that as the affordances and capabilities of media evolve, children will be at the forefront. Immersive and interactive technologies like immersive virtual reality (IVR) are gaining traction in the public and consumer arena. Immersive virtual reality technology places users directly into a virtual environment that blocks out the outside world, creating intense, vivid, and personal scenarios (Bailey et al., 2015; Bainbridge, 2007; Blascovich, & Bailenson, 2011). For decades IVR was only available to major institutions such as universities, hospitals, and government military agencies. However, IVR is becoming more accessible to the general public. Large media corporations are purchasing IVR companies for billions of dollars (Solomon, 2014) and IVR hardware alone is projected to be a billion-dollar business (Lamkin, 2015).

Although virtual reality research has decades worth of work demonstrating IVR’s powerful effects on adult attitudes and behaviors (Blascovich & Bailenson, 2011), little is known about how children, particularly in early childhood (i.e. ages 3-6 years old) respond. Greater access to the technology suggests that young children will experience IVR, raising questions on its relationship to child development. This paper moves towards better understanding the effects of IVR on children by providing an analysis of the empirical research on immersive virtual reality research and children, including a table that outlines each study. The paper defines IVR, and identifies the trends in research. Finally, we discuss the findings from the content analysis and their relationship to child development. The paper concludes describing issues to consider for IVR and early childhood, and future directions.  More....

To read full study, go here.